On 16 February, I had the privilege of chairing the QNI's conference on district nursing in the digital age. Nearly 200 delegates filled the room for what had been termed 'an accelerated learning event'. It was an opportunity for service and education providers, alongside commissioners, to hear how digital technology impacts on the care of patients, their families and carers.
Stunning results from new ways of working were described. Where district nursing teams are now using demand and capacity tools to organise their work, there is clear evidence of releasing more time to care for patients.
In one area, one hour per nurse per day is being freed up to care for patients by using hardware and software to support caseload scheduling and mobile working with iPads, which support single data entry to patient records. Paper-based records and duplication of entry have been consigned to history.
In another area, the use of their IT-based systems supporting demand and capacity and mobile working have resulted in 30% more time for care for the district nursing teams. This is truly impressive in terms of effectiveness and efficiency and is a significant help with managing the growing demand for the service.
This story of releasing time to care through the use of digital technology was repeated by several other providers and was a key message of the day. It was further exemplified by Dr Amir Hannan who spoke about the impact of patients having access to their GP records online from anywhere in the world.
The star of the day was Ingrid Brindle, one of Dr Hannan's patients, who has had access to her GP records since 2006. She provided a great insight into how such access is going to revolutionise relationships with healthcare professionals and empower patients to take responsibility for their own health. With close to 50% of patients having access to their records in Dr Hannan's surgery, the result has been 11% fewer GP consultations.
Delegates leaving the conference expressed their commitment to learn more about digital innovations. While the evaluation of the day is underway now, we will contact delegates in three and six months' time to gauge the longer term impact of the conference on the district nursing service – and, ultimately, on the communities they serve.
Crystal Oldman, chief executive, Queen's Nursing Institute